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What Makes a Successful Charitable Food Drive?

PHOTO: One important aspect of planning a charitable food drive is determining how to get heavy barrels from the donation site to the local food bank. Photo courtesy Community Connection of Northeast Oregon.
PHOTO: One important aspect of planning a charitable food drive is determining how to get heavy barrels from the donation site to the local food bank. Photo courtesy Community Connection of Northeast Oregon.
December 2, 2014

MEDFORD, Ore. - It's the time of year when generosity comes to the forefront, and if a charitable food drive is on the list for your business, church, or city, there are some good ideas around the state for making it work.

Carmen Gentry, food bank manager at Community Connection of Northeast Oregon in La Grande, says the key to a successful food drive is logistics. Set specific dates, enlist plenty of volunteers, publicize the goal, and partner with local businesses for donation sites and other needs.

After 19 years of food drives, Gentry says some of the most successful efforts last only one day.

"If you can keep it short and make the impact really big, people feel good about it," she says. "They don't have to spend a ton of time doing it, and the amount of food that you're going to collect or the amount of dollars for the food pantry are typically going to be bigger."

She advises planning for what happens after the drive - how to safely round up all the donations - and says the help of a local moving company with a forklift and truck is invaluable.

Increasingly, nonprofits also have online donation options, such as the Oregon Food Bank's new Virtual Fund Drive.

In Medford, December means the Greystone Court food drive, when neighbors turn their holiday light display into a donation spot for ACCESS, the community action agency that runs the local food pantry.

Philip Yates, director of nutrition programs at ACCESS, says the idea is to make it memorable. Business partners serve hot chocolate, Santa Claus makes an appearance, and for just a few nights several thousand families come by to see the lights and donate food.

"I don't think of that solely as a food drive," says Yates. "I think of it as a tradition. One of the reasons we feel families come out and do that is because they want to give their children the experience of giving back. Usually, it's the littlest hand in the car that stretches out and gives a can of food."

Now in its 13th year, Yates says the Greystone Court food drive raises $12,000 to $20,000 and at least 10,000 pounds of food a year. This year's Greystone Court food drive is Dec. 21 through Dec. 24.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR